Resolving EU's antitrust case against Google 'important for us all'

The European commission's approach to resolving the competition issues raised in the case against Google will form the backdrop to a special panel discussion in the European parliament on 1 October, explain MEPs Ramon Tremosa i Balcells and Andreas Schwab.

Search is the gateway to the internet and to the business and consumer services that are building our digital and increasingly our online economy. Search allows consumers to find businesses online and allows those businesses to find consumers. If a business cannot be found online, it cannot compete.

This is why the European Union's approach to resolving the competition issues raised in the case against Google is so important to us all, and why we have organised a special panel discussion in the European parliament on 1 October.

Five years ago the first complaints against Google were filed with the European commission which then opened a formal investigation in 2010 and set out its four main concerns regarding Google's practices, notably it's possible search bias.

It has become one of the most important cases that the commission has dealt with in recent times. With an unprecedented number of complaints - at least 17 formal ones - European companies and consumers demand a certain level of unbundling of the different services that Google offers to ensure that competitors have a real chance to also offer their specific services to consumers.

Clear action is needed to ensure that fair competition takes place, although search engines might have a certain competitive advantage in creating specific search services (search for products, news, places etc.) due to their possibility of benefiting from all the information fed into the main search engine. This action, however, should not punish innovation, but only the abuse of a dominant position, if such is detected.

With market share in the high 90s in many European countries, Google continues to grow and expand its services and products into new markets.

It has leveraged its search dominance into a full range of services and products including online video (YouTube), smart phones and mobile (Motorola and Android), email (Gmail), online mapping (Google maps), social networking (Google +), travel (Google flight search and Google hotel finder), online translation (Google translate), books, movies and music (Google books and Google play), price comparison and eCommerce (Google shopping) and mobile payments (Google wallet).

All these services compete directly with European innovative companies that depend on Google for their visibility and access to customers.

Earlier this year, the commission market tested Google's proposals to address EU antitrust concerns. The results of this market test did not create the conviction that these commitments were sufficient in order to alleviate the preliminary conclusions of the commission's investigation. In response, the commission asked Google to improve its offer.

Although Google submitted a revised package of proposals at the beginning of September, no details have yet emerged.

The case can potentially proceed in two different directions: either Google's improved commitments appropriately address the commission's remaining concerns and the case is settled, or the commission will set out its concerns in a statement of objections that may possibly lead to a negative decision or a fine for Google.

A settlement would ensure that the commitments enter into force immediately. However, the fast-moving character of the concerned markets may moderate its strength.

[pullquote]For us, at this crucial moment, it is essential to ensure that everyone is heard[/pullquote]. It is for this reason that next Tuesday we will co-host an event in the European parliament.

The event, entitled 'The Google antitrust case: What is at stake?' is designed to provide an open and balanced platform for discussion without prejudice to the rights of the party under investigation and including all confidentiality elements that need to be taken into account in antitrust cases such as this one.

We will have the honour and pleasure of welcoming EU competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, and have invited all stakeholders with an interest in this case for what promises to be an electrifying debate.